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Category: College Majors

Dream big with education at a small liberal arts college

 

What is a liberal arts education?

 As an Indian student growing up in a typical Indian household, the children of the 80s and 90s grew up listening to a single refrain: ‘become a doctor’ or ‘become an engineer’. The more ambitious ones went for the bureaucratic services. With the change in millennia, the refrain remained the same, with one fresh entry: IT. Suddenly everyone wanted to be a software guy and head for the fabled goldmines in Palo Alto and the Bay Area.  Indians became the world’s IT intellectual repository, powering Microsoft, Google, Apple and now Facebook. In this race to meet some new technological landmark youngsters (and even parents) often forget the original purpose of education. The purpose of a college degree is not to find ‘a’ well-paid job. At least that is not, or should not, be the sole purpose of a college degree. Rather it is the widening of mental horizons, the procurement of knowledge and information, development of potential and personal talents, and the ability to prepare oneself for a career and fit into a wide variety of roles and positions. And this is where a liberal arts education makes its entry. A liberal arts education (which ironically has nothing to do with liberty or the arts alone) is the high priest of academia, opening minds and possibilities to a wide variety of subjects from the social sciences (economics, history, law, politics, sociology, psychology, etc) to the natural sciences (chemistry, physics, geology, computer science, biology, anthropology, etc.) and everything in between.

How is a liberal arts college different from a national university?

This would probably be your follow up question. While there is no right answer to the question: which of the two is better – a liberal arts college or a large national university – it is easy to outline the differences in the two systems.

  1. Liberal arts colleges are as a rule smaller colleges with a much smaller student population, small class sizes and a close-knit student community.
  2. Due to smaller student populations, the student-faculty ratios are also small ergo faculty know their students better, forms bonds, allow for more personal interaction and provide students a more intimate ambiance within which education is imparted.
  3. An interesting feature of liberal arts colleges is their lack of post-graduation and research options. Liberal arts colleges focus primarily on undergraduate education.
  4. As opposed to large universities where lectures are often given by teaching assistants, as professors are more invested in postgraduate education and research, you would learn directly from professors and leading experts in the field.
  5. Thanks to smaller sizes, there will be less competition for leadership positions and more opportunity for you to shine in your chosen fields of activity and share greater camaraderie with your peers.
  6. There will probably be fewer research opportunities available – these are usually the highlights of large universities where the focus is on research.
  7. Also, unlike large universities, some of which are well-known for their athletic and sports teams, liberal arts colleges are not known for their prowess in the field of sports.

Why would it be good for me?

If you are among that increasingly rare species who believe that college is for learning, not to ready yourself for a job in four years’ time, a liberal arts college is probably where you would fit best. Such an education as some academicians will point out readies you ‘for life’ as opposed to ‘a job’. Given the wide scope of learning it incorporates, liberal arts students come out of college well prepared for various jobs. A solid body of learning across disciplines and subjects is their strongest suit, consequently making them eligible for roles within a wide variety of fields. For instance, a student who took up English Literature and communications in college would during college intern at various organizations – a newspaper/magazine, a media production house or TV channel, a website, a music company, etc. She could finish college and then work at one or several of these places during her career and rise through the ranks to head a division in a managerial position. She did not necessarily have to have been a business management student to get there. In short, a liberal arts education is just another, often more fun, way of reaching the same goals, perhaps with a higher purpose and with a well-rounded personality. It can be the difference between an educated and knowledgeable person; the thin line separating the high skilled from the skilled and versatile; the professional from a global citizen.

So, if you are a person who is passionate about learning and interested in a wide-ranging field of subjects, keen to develop your knowledge and skills, haven’t yet decided your choice of profession and are looking to explore your options and suitability, a liberal arts education could well be the key that unlocks the mystery of what your future holds.

Which colleges could I apply to?

 USA

USA offers very good liberal arts colleges. Among the most well known of these are Pomona, Amherst, Wellesley, Williams, Claremont McKenna,  Bowdoin, Middlebury, Barnard, and Grinnell.

Canada

The list in Canada may not contain names with universal recall like in the US, but these are nevertheless great institutes of learning. Some of them are Humber, Trent, University of Ottawa, and York.

UK

The UK also has a shorter but nonetheless impressive list of liberal arts colleges. These include King’s College, Richmond, University of Bristol, University of Edinburg and Winchester.

Studying Matters of the Mind


You will admit, psychological thrillers make for the most interesting genre whether to read or watch. There’s no doubt that the human mind while being among the most complex organs, is also the most intriguing. Unraveling its secrets, understanding its complexes, finding that fine line between sanity and insanity is a project that can consume a lifetime and then some. While the world around us modifies rapidly, the human mind too continues to evolve in response to stimuli. Studying it is both a satisfying and humbling experience. Whether you are someone who likes to reach out to other human beings or someone who wants to understand themselves better, studying psychology can be the answer to many of your quandaries. A major in psychology is not only gratifying in itself but can also open doors for several other lucrative careers for you. As a psychologist, you will study the human mind and behavior and learn to analyze how human beings behave, how they think, how they feel, how they communicate and express their emotions. Here’s looking at the essentials you need to be aware of before taking the plunge.

Which colleges can I apply to?

There are many, many great colleges you can choose from, not just in
USA, but also in the UK, Germany, Singapore, Australia, and Canada. Psychology is a popular major and many universities offer stellar courses in the subject. If you are looking at the US, there are several other great options. Apart from the popular choices – Stanford, Columbia, and Princeton, you should also consider University of California, LA (UCLA), University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), Duke, New York University (NYU), University of Chicago, Northwestern, University of Virginia (UVA), University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (UNC), and Carnegie Mellon (CMU). Liberal Arts Colleges like Carleton, Reed, Grinnel and F&M are also good options to explore among several others.

In Canada, University of British Columbia (UBC) is a stellar choice as are University of Toronto and McGill University – all very popular with foreign students.

Outside of the US and Canada, you can consider the London School of Economics, which has an excellent psychology major. If you don’t mind gloomy weather, are a Rowling fan and feel the tug of the Scottish Highlands, you can consider the University of Edinburgh too.

Among some non-conventional choices for Indian students in Europe are KU Leuven in Belgium and Humbolt University of Berlin if you are feeling particularly adventurous. The universities of Sydney and Melbourne in Australia also present themselves as great options.

The National University of Singapore should certainly be on your list of options. We can list at least a hundred other options for you but can’t, due to space constraints. Here’s your cue to Google it!

 What Courses can I take?

Psychology is as vast and varied as the human mind. Looking at the subject in its entirety can be a little overwhelming considering the various areas it covers and the academic depths it explores. It would probably be a better idea to get your bearings first before wading into this expansive field. Consider personal preferences and have at least some notion of what your future aspirations are before taking your pick. UChicago, well known for its research initiatives, offers some very interesting courses in psychology; consider these: Bright and Dark Side of Empathy, Multidisciplinary Perspectives in Morality, Social Neuroscience and Child Development in the Classroom. Each of these relates to a different branch of psychology and can put you on very different career paths. UNC-Chapel Hill has various opportunities for undergrad research and will give you an excellent taste of a future in academia. Besides, it has fascinating courses that bear immense social and practical relevance, such as Drug Addiction, Fact & Fiction, Health Psychology and Families and Children. If you are keen to explore options closer home, NUS beckons with some relevant courses. Apart from Abnormal Psychology (which is offered in nearly all colleges) you can look at studying upcoming areas such as Industrial and Organizational Psychology, or consider Trauma Psychology or Paediatric Psychology, or even the Psychology of Ageing. As you can well deduce there is a separate branch for every human developmental stage from infancy to old age, then there are individual, group, industrial or even social mindsets that you can study besides looking at abnormal psychology that explores the dark crevices of the mind where ailments such as neurosis, psychosis, schizophrenia and manic depression lurk. You can also look at providing therapy to school-going children through child development and adolescent psychology. With a wide range of options to choose from you will have to delve deep into your own mind to find what you really want!

 Where can I work? As what?

As a psychology graduate, you will have expertise in understanding the human mind and behavior. You can use this to not only understand and control your own emotions and responses better but also turn it into a lucrative career either as a psychologist, an academician who focuses on research or use it as a tool to advance your prospects in other fields. Be warned, however, nearly all careers, while rewarding entail further study – completing a master’s degree and often even a Ph.D. and in many cases enough internship experience before you can strike out on your own. Among the most apparent career choices, of course, are those of school/career counselors, clinical psychologist, and human resource personnel. You can be employed in schools, hospitals, clinics, and large corporates. Another career option is that of a marriage or family therapist. For those who are lured by crime and punishment, working as a forensic psychologist can be as exciting as it sounds. Your job would be to figure out whether or not an accused is sane or not, if there are behavioral abnormalities then what the possible treatments are, whether a witness in a legal case is credible or not, etc. Forensic psychologists usually work with the police or maybe employed by lawyers or investigators. Given the rising number of sporting opportunities in and beyond cricket in India and abroad, you could also make an exciting, glamorous and lucrative career for yourself as a sports psychologist. Sports psychologists focus on the mental health of athletes and are usually employed by sports teams and are a part of the team entourages much as a physical therapist is. They also provide counseling to sportspersons during stressful periods, career shifts, etc. Another upcoming opportunity is that of an industrial or organizational psychologist or an I-O psychologist. They are employed by corporates or large organizations to provide psychological support and counseling in the workplace. I-O psychologists not only work to keep a stable and productive work environment but are also trained to match employee suitability to roles and resolve employee-related issues in the workplace.

So if this sounds like something you would like to pursue, go ahead and explore the options suggested and live the life of the mind.

 

Thinking about Undergraduate Majors

Why you should pause before choosing the Business Degree

Amongst the dozens of majors that American colleges offer, and the promise of freedom that education abroad stands for, the popular route for students from India is still a degree in Bachelors of Business Administration. First, it was all about Wall Street, more recently about Entrepreneurship, but business is still the most popular major out there.

We’ve had students go to Wharton, Stern, Kelley, truly the best of business schools because they are certain of what they want and we are definitely there to support them. And there are those students who apply for reasons that are less than perfect – pressure to manage the family business or a misguided desire for money. But before they make the decision, we have a conversation to make sure it’s what they really want, not just what they “believe” they should study.

And that conversation is essential. And that is the conversation I want to share with you. Because I am sad to say that some students lose their opportunity to broaden their minds with a liberal arts education by sacrificing it for “safety.” And I’m not just here to drill in on the values of Fareed Zakaria’s “In the Defense of a Liberal Education,” I really want to use this opportunity for you to explore if this is a good idea.

So What Are Wrong Reasons to Pick a Business Major?

Because you don’t know what else is available. The ingrained mentality that Indian Students study Engineering, Medicine or Business is hard to shake, even though times are changing. Sometimes, students say they want to study business without even knowing why. It’s like saying, “I like to read” because it’s the “right hobby” without having an opinion on what genre of literature you like. Do you know what part of business you like? What do you want to do after the degree? What does Accounting, Marketing, Operations, Strategy entail? And even then, if you want to get to Consulting do you need to be a business major to get there?

Because of the flashy title. What was once a desire to be a banker on Wall Street has become a desire to be an Entrepreneur or Founder. But remember, each entrepreneur you idolize became a success because they had a different idea that changed the world. And they didn’t necessarily get that idea from an accounting classroom. Often, it was an unusual experience that prompted it. In The Social Network, Zuckerberg got the idea from social interactions rather than classes. Don’t get swayed by a title, recognize that you need a foundation perhaps but you won’t get an idea for “the next big thing” with your diploma when you graduate. You need more.

Because you don’t realize you don’t need the major to do the job. This is something we’ve been hinting at in the last two points but the biggest thing that students forget is that you don’t need to study business to do business. Consider the fact that each year, students from top liberal arts schools – Harvard, Princeton, Stanford – go into consulting, banking and finance. And none of those students have a business degree. Because those schools don’t offer them. Yet those students are a success in the world of business.

Companies hire English majors who can analyze novels to manage communications, history majors who understand cause and effect to analyze patterns, and social science majors to take their theoretical understanding and apply it to the world around them. A designer developing products works in business, an HR person works in business, there is more to business than the degree. Managers need teamwork skills, leadership, and problem-solving skills, something you can learn in any degree.

And sometimes, the broad base of the liberal arts education is valuable because what is business today, is not business tomorrow. The smartphone didn’t exist in the last millennium, and yet there are businesses built on just building smartphone apps. As the world changes, you need adaptability, creativity and strong people skills for success, not just finance classes. The exploratory approach that the liberal arts education follows can encourage the flexibility you might need.

This is not to say we don’t encourage students to study business if it is right for them. Like we said, we have students going to top schools each year. But this is a decision that should be thought through and explored carefully. Don’t pick business because it’s a default, pick it if you truly want it. And if you are one of those students who loves the Mock Stock Exchange and started their own business in middle school, maybe you are right for business.

Others may want to wait till the MBA where you study those same courses but after you’ve built a foundation and improved on it with work experience. Remember that your undergraduate education only comes around once. And by jumping right into the business world, you may be closing those opportunities to explore that led you to apply abroad in the first place.